Fatigue at sea warning

Senior members from shipmanagement industry body InterManager have been in Manila this week at a crewing event where they highlighted the growing problems of fatigue at sea.

Captain Kuba Szymanski, InterManager’s secretary general, chaired a panel on the findings of Project MARTHA; a fatigue study co-ordinated between InterManager and other industry bodies.

Project MARTHA’s aim was to put together a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) and to provide fatigue awareness training, fatigue prediction models, fatigue reporting systems and advise on corrective actions to take to minimise/eradicate fatigue incidents.

To take account of cultural differences in crew working patterns, Project MARTHA operated two projects simultaneously in both Europe and China. InterManager members took part in the project by allowing their crew to report findings and wear Actiwatch monitors.

Project MARTHA conducted two linked studies involving masters of vessels and their crews.

The first study included three to four months of observation on the longer-term psycho-social issues affecting seafarer fatigue, with volunteer crew members rating their fatigue and stress levels and wearing Actiwatches periodically to record their activity levels.

The second study evaluated the effectiveness of FRMS through a shipboard study.

An overwhelming result of this project was the effect of fatigue on masters versus other crew and what consequences this could have on the vessel as a whole.

The study’s central purpose was to examine the factors which contribute to fatigue. Over the course of the project, these factors were found to include: job security; environmental factors; job demands; sleep quality; irregular work hours; the amount of rest hours; and new regulations which could place more requirements on seafarers.

The project found a number of reasons for how a master’s role differed from that of other crewmembers, including that masters have more weekly work hours, feel that work in port is surprisingly less demanding than work at sea. Masters are far more fatigued at the end of a contract and are slightly more overweight compared to others onboard. Surprisingly, results showed that second officers tend to get the less sleep compared to others onboard.

The study also found: the longer seafarers are at sea, motivation decreases. During interviews, seafarers pointed out that not being relieved on time is having a great effect on their motivation. Both fatigue and stress levels are perceived as worse at the end of a voyage rather than the beginning by most crew, with some seafarers saying that port work is more demanding than work at sea – with 48.6% of participants felt stress was higher at the end of a voyage.

Sleepiness levels vary little during the voyage, suggesting there are opportunities for recovery while onboard.

The cultural difference Project MARTHA sought to examine threw up some interesting results and a clear divide between European and Chinese seafarers.

European seafarers worked fewer hours than their Chinese colleagues.

Chinese seafarers on dry bulk carriers worked an average of 15.11 hours a day compared to European seafarers who worked an average 10.23 hours a day.

There is evidence of higher levels of both fatigue and stress in Chinese seafarers, rather than European seafarers.

InterManager remains worried about levels of fatigue and is determined to highlight the issue.

“We cannot ignore the findings, so what shipmanagers do next is crucial; whether that be reducing bureaucracy or listening to vessel’s staff comments and suggestions,” Szymanski said in Manila this week.

“If fatigue is not addressed soon, seafaring could be in jeopardy of becoming an out-of-touch profession. That is why it is vital the whole industry works together, starting today,” he added.


Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. I’m not surprised that 2/Os got the least sleep. When I was 2/O, working the 12-4 meant going to bed about 19:00, up at 23:45, bed again about 04:30, up at 9 doing sick bay, charts etc. early lunch then on the bridge until after 16:00. Dinner at 18:00 then bed at 19:00. In port, working 6 on 6 off sometimes gave you a bit more time in bed and the chance to socialise with others. The noticeable thing about being 2/O though was the social isolation that went with it. Most ships are UMS, so on the evening watch one could often go days without seeing anyone. During the day, you saw people but they were working, it was only after 17:00 that one saw people socially.
    Having said that, the 2/Os position was my favourite.

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